Yankees and Red Sox hit London
Before I go any further, I have a confession: I had never watched any professional form of “America’s favorite pastime” before jumping on the Central Line to the former Olympic Stadium, now home of West Ham United Football Club, and rented out for the weekend to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for the inaugural #LondonSeries.
My only previous interaction with baseball had been for one summer, indulging my nine-year-old son at the time as I watched him run out for the mighty VOB Macaws until he returned to a real sport, which is cricket, naturally.
I was therefore never going to discuss the intricacies of this storied game with my esteemed colleagues from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, ESPN and Sports Illustrated in the media centre that, of course, wasn’t behind home plate but adjacent, for it was positioned there back in 2012 to see Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt break all sorts of records down the home straight.
I wasn’t even playing in the little leagues when it came to these guys and girls – all doyens in the baseball fraternity back in the spangled banner.
For me, it was all about the experience. I even pitched up in my Yankees shirt and NY snapback, only to be quickly reminded upon picking up my credentials – that’s US for accreditation - that I better have another shirt and hat in my bag otherwise I would not be allowed up to the media centre. Fortunately, I had come prepared and after a quick change in the toilets I was good to go.
Walking around the impressive London Stadium, hearing all the various accents from people that had flown in from all over the world, and taking in all the aromas from the vast array of concession stands, it was apparent that I was not alone.
Thousands had come in – the 60000 capacity stadium was sold out – and parted with a minimum of £64 up to a premium £385 just to say “I was there when the Yankees played the Sox in London”.
If there is a way of explaining it to South Africans, I would say it was much like a T20 or Blitzboks Sevens crowd.
It was about the cold beverages, which were desperately required on London’s steamiest day of the year, the double arm-length £24 “Boomstick” hot dog, the sing-along to Take Me Out to the Ball Game, mixing with celebrities such as actor Josh Gad and British royalty Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle - reportedly a distant relative of Red Sox soon-to-be Hall of Famer “Mookie” Betts - and plunging deep into a candy store the size of the Grand Canyon.
The players also played their part. Although it was no exhibition match, both teams did haul out their “A-game” to provide the real entertainment out on the park that took 24 days to construct using 141,900 square feet of artificial turf and 345 tonnes of dirt for the infield diamond.
The Yankees opened proceedings with six runs in their first inning, including the first “homer” by southpaw Aaron Hicks. The Red Sox responded with six of their own. That’s 6-6 after Round 1!
At that point I went in search of some genuine baseball fans. Basically, your Test cricket connoisseur.
It’s here where I met up with “Big Pappi”, who goes by the same nickname as former Red Sox superstar David Ortiz, and his brother Anthony.
They had flown in all the way from Los Angeles for the London Series. With the Yankees averaging six runs in an entire game normally, this unusual run-fest bordered on the ridiculous for them, much like people speaking about 500 runs being scored before the start of the Cricket World Cup, but they still said they’ll be back because “we love baseball, man”.
The similarities between the day out at London Stadium and T20 cricket did not end there, though. I genuinely felt for the pitchers - much like the same way my heart cries out for bowlers in the shortest format.
They are simply on a hiding to nothing. The Red Sox’s starting pitcher Rick Porcello suffered the indignity of being hauled off early on. His Yankees counterpart, Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, suffered the same fate. That’s much like Faf du Plessis stationing Kagiso Rabada at third-man for the entire game after conceding a couple of boundaries and a six in his first over. It hurts the ego.
Although it was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, so therefore I didn’t mind it too much, the game lasted four hours and 42 minutes - three minutes shy of the longest nine-inning game ever - which concerned me about the sustainability of a sport that prides itself on being a shorter option than cricket.
And with the English Cricket Board launching “The Hundred” next season, baseball may yet have to speed up its act if it really is to remain a hit in Londontown going forward.